The film is seductive, disturbing, enthralling -- a trip to hell that gives the passengers a great ride.
New York Post
Like a bomb exploding in a fireworks factory: It's fierce and shocking and dazzling and wonderful.
A marvelous achievement that refuses to avert its gaze from the poetry and the insane savagery of the hopeless.
The New York Times
As the movie's frenetic visual rhythms and mood swings synchronize with the zany, adrenaline-fueled impulsiveness of its lost youth on the rampage, you may find yourself getting lost in this teeming netherworld.
It takes a strong stomach to sit through its two-plus hours of non-stop brutality (much of it involving very small children).
Los Angeles Times
A potent and unexpected mixture of authenticity and flash -- even if this is what happened on the ground, making it worth our time on screen is just beyond the contortionist abilities of even this most acrobatic of films.
The New Yorker
Meirelles's picture is so keen to brandish its social wrath, and its spirits are so rampagingly high, that the bruises it inflicts barely last a night. [20 January 2003, p. 94]
Full of action, but no soul.
Christian Science Monitor
In its cinematic approach, though, the film is as slick as any Hollywood thriller, directed by Fernando Meirelles with visual flourishes - jazzy editing, lurid colors, crackling sound effects - that dilute the impact of what might have been an indelible cautionary tale.
New York Magazine (Vulture)
Undeniably powerful, but also rather numbing.